A growing number of employers are including professional development goals in the annual HR review process. On some level, that’s a good thing. He recognizes that learning must be at the heart of career development. But professional development implies that there are knowledge and skills that you must acquire to move to the next level in your career. Sometimes it can be a good idea to focus on personal development more broadly, regardless of what you need to know to do your job or to facilitate your career path.
There are definitely times when professional development is warranted. At the start of your career, there will be a lot of gaps between what you learned in the classroom and the skills you need on a daily basis to be successful on the job. For example, much of education is an individual sport, while work is a team sport. Therefore, you may not have developed great teamwork skills during your training. You must acquire these skills after entering the labor market.
Even after being in the workplace for a while, there are often skills that will help you move to the next level in your organization. By working with your supervisor and other mentors, you can often identify the things you need to know at the next level of your career that are not central to the work you are currently doing. These can be the basis of professional development goals.
But professional development has three potential limits. The first is that it tends to focus on specific concrete job skills rather than general leadership or thinking abilities. It’s important to shore up weaknesses with new learning, but success on the job involves more than just a specific skill set. It also requires broader abilities to define and solve difficult problems, which is difficult to teach in typical professional development short courses.
The second is that it is simply not possible to predict in advance all the knowledge and skills you will need to solve tomorrow’s problems. Often, the innovative solutions you come up with involve recognizing that something you’ve learned outside the context of the work you’re doing is relevant to an ongoing project. You only find out the information was important after you find yourself in the situation in which you need to use it.
The third is that professional development probably won’t help you out of a motivational lull. If you just don’t feel enthused about the work you do, learning more about it is unlikely to be inspiring. Instead, you might come to dread your professional development opportunities.
And this is where personal development comes in. Sometimes you have to set yourself the goal of acquiring new knowledge and skills without considering how they relate to your current job. You can focus on something that seems work-related in some way, like learning something about a similar industry or things that people with very different job functions know. But, there’s often a lot of value in learning things that aren’t directly related to specific job tasks.
For example, long-term learning engagements such as diploma programs (rather than brief certificate programs or workplace training) teach a lot of specific knowledge and skills, but their main benefit is that They help develop broader thinking and problem-solving skills that are crucial for dealing with the difficult, unstructured situations that characterize the trickiest puzzles at work.
Even when you plan to commit to specific courses or pick up a few books to read, it can be helpful to focus on areas with no obvious relevance to your own work. This breadth of knowledge offers new avenues for approaching difficult work situations. Additionally, the skills learned can allow you to get involved in new projects that go beyond what you have worked on in the past, which can open up new work opportunities.
Learning something very new also has a great motivational benefit. When you’re an expert in a field (as you probably are in your main areas of responsibility for your job), you have to work hard to improve even a little in your knowledge and skills. It can be difficult to detect any changes in your performance over time, which can lead to feelings of stagnation (even if you actually keep moving forward).
However, when you learn something new for the first time, you learn a lot very quickly. You can see your improvement day by day and week by week. Therefore, learning a new skill (even one that is completely unrelated to your professional life) can be invigorating as it reminds you that you have plenty of untapped abilities. Engaging in personal development that goes beyond your job can pull you out of a lull and renew your motivation more generally.